RawAutos takes a look back at the last 100+ years of the automobile, choosing the best cars of each decade.
The automobile has been around for well over a hundred years now, and still going strong. One of the most important inventions in the long history of this earth, cars are what have gotten us around our countries for decades and decades. Unfortunately, these days, a car (I still prefer automobile) is considered by some to be more of a curse than a blessing.
The first internal combustion engine to run on gasoline was created in 1870 by a Viennese Jew by the name of Siegfried Marcus. It was a handcart with the modern motor attached to drive it, making it the first ever gasoline powered internal combustion motor, and the first of anything to be powered by the motor most of us have in our current car(s).
However, while ‘The First Marcus Car of 1870’ was the first to be powered by the most modern engine, it’s Karl Benz who’s credited with creating the first actual driving automobile. Using his own patent that he received in 1879 for his internal combustion engine designed in 1878, he was able to power his first real car, a three-wheeled vehicle called the Motorwagen, which you can see with him and his assistant driving it below.
I won’t bore you much more, so you should know that we’ll start off the best of the decades’ cars with the 1920s, which is a decade of the automobile that really gets the blood flowing through my veins. Why? Because they were so damn beautiful. It was when automotive design started to become serious, and when automobile racing was starting to grow bigger and better, as well as more modern.
So the RawAutos automobile of the decade in the ’20s? The 1921-29 Bentley 3-Liter.
Interestingly, it was one of the few cars that was actually produced the whole decade as the same model. Now Bentley did produce the 4 1/2-Liter and 6 1/2-liter models in the late ’20s, and while they were more successful at racing, they were automobiles born from the success of the 3-Liter Bentley. Which, interestingly enough, could be had in standard, Speed and Super Sports variants (Speed and Super Sports are still available today on newer Bentley models). Or officially referred to by the color on their radiator badge, which were the Blue Label (117.5 or 130 inch wheelbase), Red Label (5.3:1 high compression motor with 117.5 inch wheelbase) and Green Label cars (the higher performing car with 6.3:1 compression ratio and 108 inch wheelbase). But be careful, Bentley would supply their owners with any color radiator badge they asked for, so it’s a little hard to tell just by that way.
The Bentley 3-Liter car was 3.0-liter straight-four engine with about 70 hp. And to give you a true understanding of the motor, it’s best to copy and paste what Wikipedia has on their page about this car:
The 3.0 L (2996 cc/182 in³) straight-4 engine was large for its day, but it was its technical innovations that were most noticed. It was one of the first production engines with 4 valves per cylinder, and these were driven by an overhead camshaft. It was also among the first with two spark plugs per cylinder, pent-roof combustion chambers, and twin carburetors. It was extremely undersquare, optimized for low-end torque, with a bore of 80 mm (3.1 in) and a stroke of 149 mm (5.9 in). To increase durability, the iron engine block and cylinder head were cast as a single unit.
The 3-Liters had four speed manual gearboxes, and could hit speeds of 80 mph in the standard model, 90 mph in the Speed and over 100 mph for the Super Sports. The 3-Liter cars won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1924 and 1927. And due to its incredible weight -4,000 lbs- Ettore Bugatti called it, “The fastest lorry in the world.” Accurate for the time. Bentley produced 1,619 of this exceptional automobile.
Runner-up: The 1924-29 Bugatti Type 35.
The Bugatti Type 35 was the most successful racing automobile of the day. So why, if I love racing so much, did it come in second place? Well, Bugatti didn’t actually build as many of the Type 35s as Bentley did of the 3-Liter. The 35 was pretty much less a road car and more race car, which is fine. However, Bentley built his cars to be a streetable automobile that were built to be successful in racing, while Bugatti built the Type 35 simply for racing. Only 643 Type 35, 37 and 39 cars were ever made (the 37 and 39 automobiles were Type 35s just with newer features).
So what made the Type 35 so special? Well for one, it averaged 14 racing victories a week. The cars won 1,000+ races in its career, and Ettore Bugatti took to the world famous Targa Florio automobile race/rally to showcase the racing talents of his extraordinary cars. It won the Targa Florio in 1925, as well as in 1926, ’27, ’28 and 1929 (5th most in Targa Florio history). Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say about the engine, shall well?
The original model, introduced at the Grand Prix of Lyon on August 3, 1924, used an evolution of the 3-valve 2.0 L (1991 cc/121 in³) overhead cam straight-8 engine first seen on the Type 29. Bore was 60 mm and stroke was 88 mm as on many previous Bugatti models. 96 examples were produced.
This new powerplant featured five main bearings with an unusual ball bearing system. This allowed the engine to rev to 6000 rpm, and 90 hp (67 kW) was reliably produced. Solid axles with leaf springs were used front and rear, and drum brakes at back, operated by cables, were specified. Alloy wheels were a novelty, as was the hollow front axle for reduced unsprung weight. A second feature of the Type 35 that was to become a Bugatti trademark was passing the springs through the front axle rather than simply U-bolting them together as was done on their earlier cars.
A rare version was de-bored (to 52 mm) for a total displacement of 1.5 L (1494 cc/91 in³).
Dimensions: Length: 3680 mm (144.9 in), Width: 1320 mm (52 in), Wheelbase: 2400 mm (94.5 in), Track: 1200 mm (47.2 in), Weight: 750 kg (1650 lb).
And people wonder why I have absolutely zero respect for the Veyron and its set of owners? This is why. Bugatti made racing cars, not wanna-be grand tourers that do nothing but go 250+ mph in a straight line. Cool that a car can go that fast, but it hasn’t gone racing, hasn’t won a real race, and while a mechanical masterpiece, it hasn’t achieved any racing titles.
[Automobile sources/pictures: Motorwagen, Bentley 3-Liter, Bugatti Type 35, Automobile]